Tobold's Blog
Monday, October 08, 2007
Tabula Rasa borrowing Auto Assault code?

A reader who belonged to the exclusive small group of Auto Assault players wrote me to tell me he was "100% sure" that some of the code from Auto Assault has been used for Tabula Rasa. Quote: "The character models are the same, the UI elements are the same, some of the music is even the same! I looked at some of the quest rewards in Tabula Rasa, and they even use the same exact item fonts that they did in Auto Assault!"

The question is whether that matters. I don't think the character models or UI fonts were the reason why Auto Assault failed and got shut down after only one year. It is understandable if the developers wanted at least to salvage some code. From a gameplay point of view I liked Tabula Rasa slightly better than Auto Assault, but there are some obvious similarities. Both are action-oriented shooter MMOs, and it isn't quite clear yet whether that is a viable genre at all. The problem with failing games is that it is hard to say whether people didn't like that type of game, or whether the particular games that failed were just badly done. And I still have my doubts whether a monthly fee business model is appropriate for a shooter MMO, there being so many good shooters without monthly fees around, some forms of online play included.
Hi Tobold,

I have to disagree with your reader on this one. I've been playing the TR beta, and spent a few hours in AA just before the announcement of its cancellation. From what I remember, the player models were somewhat different, the females especially in TR aren't that stylized, top heavy look so often given to female avatars; and from what I remember of the AA females.

Also remember that the AA devs were NetDevil, and TR is being developed by NCSoft Austin (I think.) Since NetDevil is still operating, and I believe, developing another MMO, would they be sharing code with another division?

I'm not sure why AA failed. There certainly seemed to be a lot of players on when I visited. Personally, I think the game was a lot of action and not enough substance. I don't think TR is following this pattern though. I guess time will tell.
I would certainly hope they would reuse code! I would much prefer my devs to be working on interesting things, rather than fonts or even character models. And unless things are particularly hosed, the game won't sink or swim on those elements.
NetDevil is an independent studio - it's not owned by NCsoft. And the two games were developed completely independently - TR's been in development a looooong time. This isn't the weirdest MMO rumor I've ever heard, but it's close.

- Jeremy Dalberg
Former NCsoft Community Manager (including Auto Assault, as Nomad)
I'm the reader who made the initial comment. I played Auto Assault for many months. Whether NetDevil is an independent studio or not is besides the point. Jeremy, I didn't see you directly contradict my statement. I never saw you say that code was never shared.

I don't think you would say that either, as it's pretty obvious to anybody who has played Auto Assault for a lengthy period of time. Even the bass sound you hear in the background of Tabula Rasa seems to be the EXACT same sound file Auto Assault was using. When you look at item links in Tabula Rasa, the font used is the EXACT size and type as the one used in Auto Assault. The way the character models jump is the same. The way the quest dialogs are created is exactly the same. The character models themselves are almost identical. Ever enter a city in Auto Assault and walk around on foot? Same exact feeling, controls, and dynamic as it is walking around in Tabula Rasa. TOO MANY coincidences. Either code was shared directly, or a good portion of both games were copied indirectly. Either way, it's NOT original.

If you really want to get into an honest debate about it, give me access to an auto assault server for a few minutes. I would be more than happy to create a gallery of screenshots and wave files detailing how Tabula Rasa and Auto Assault are identical in many senses. It's a given that Auto Assault was a different game. You were a car, after all. But the fact remains that some basic elements of Auto Assault are used directly in Tabula Rasa.

It's also entirely possible that Auto Assault ripped code from Tabula Rasa, since Tabula Rasa seems to have been in development for so long. But the initial complaint stands.

And to Stropp, the person with the first comment- you admittedly only spent a "few hours" playing Auto Assault, so I don't think your opinion can really be held in high regard in this situation. No offense, but I played that game from the day the servers went up to the day they went down, so I have a good understanding of what the similarities are. Someone who only played a few hours likely never even entered a city to get a feel of how it was like walking around with an actual character instead of a vehicle.

Fortunately for NCSoft, and RG himself, there were so few people to actually play Auto Assault for an extended period of time, that this game is going to feel new to most everybody.

However, to those veteran AA players, it's going to leave a sour taste in many of their mouths..
While I have played both TR and AA I did not spend that much time with AA - I cannot say whether there is any resemblance or not at this point, but it was nothing that popped into my mind really. And walking with the character happened fairly quickly, so anyone who played more than a few hours would have experienced that.

Of course the points cannot be proven, since the game is shut down and taking screen shots and capturing sounds is not going to happen. The similarities may or may not be there - I would not call it a fact that elements were shared though.

But regardless, I don't see what the point of this supposed similarity is?

* Is NCSoft accused of stealing NetDevil code and assets?

* Is NetDevil accused of stealing NCSoft code and assets?

* If there is some sharing of assets and it is all legal, is that a bad thing in that case and why?
They may well use the same engine, which will create some similarities. But the character models looked and felt nothing alike the last tile I played with them... which was, admittedly, a year ago. And the UI was also completely different - although I hear they've redone that, too.

Font selection hardly counts as a substantial similarity, imho.
As much fun as making unsubstantiated claims is, here's some actual linkage:

Auto Assault female char model

TR femal char model

So, both female, short hair and wearing sci-fi-style leather armor - same color scheme, even. But the art quality, posture, and body shape are substantially different. That's not reused art/models, at all.

(Both the last comments are still me, Jeremy)

My initial point was listed in my original e-mail but had not been quoted for the purpose of the blog. I'm not accusing NCSoft or NetDevil of stealing anything. What I am saying, however, is that I have a hard time buying a game and paying a subscription fee that so heavily borrows from another game that failed months prior. There are SO many excellent games being released in the past months and upcoming months, that we as gamers need to start being picky about what we pay for. I myself was simply expressing the opinion that it's hard to justify spending a monthly fee on a game that clearly isn't truly original, like some of the great games that have been released and are being released soon.


Posting one selected screenshot does not prove one way or another if code was borrowed. Having full untethered and unbiased access to the game would be the only true way to provide substantial evidence of this fact. Understanding the similarities with the character models would involve someone being very familiar with both the way the AA characters moved, and the way the Tabula Rasa characters move. It's not so much how closely they look, but how they ran, how they changed direction, how they jumped. But from my personal experience, and being one of the few out there that has spent a considerable amount of time playing Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa has too many similarities and not enough coding originality to justify me spending money on it. That was simply an opinion I was expressing to the author of the blog.

P.S.- If you want to know what a "good" and "clean" UI looks like, simply try out Team Fortress 2. Valve has always done an excellent job on their interfaces and should be setting an example in the industry.
You're certainly entitled to your opinion, although it baffles me a bit. (Auto Assault was... a car game. TR isn't. The gameplay almost HAS to be substantially different.) I'd be curious to hear if there are any other ex-Auto Assault folks who reacted the same way. Didn't Bildo try it, too? (You're not Bildo, are you?)

- Jeremy
I am not Bildo.
I played Auto Assault for six months or so, and though I haven't spent a huge amount of time in the Tabula Rasa beta, for the few hours I've been there I didn't get the slightest hint of Auto Assualt deja vu. Well, other than the sense that the character models had a distinctly similar number of limbs, and that jumping in both games involved your character being elevated vertically, but on those grounds Super Mario Brothers totally ripped off the AA engine too...
Under other circumstances, salvaging or sharing code wouldn't be much of a big deal--Unless--the game was hyped as being the "signature creative vision" of the legendary Richard Garriott. This game was supposed to be brand-new gameplay and highly original. I found this quote in Escapist magazine about the demise of Origin Systems..."Richard Garriott made it a point of pride to start each new Ultima entirely from scratch, with not a line of code carried over from earlier games. Even the map editors and other tools were coded anew."
It doesn't matter. TR is an awful game.
I played Assault Beta for 4 months. When it went live it was never done. For the next year, there was nothing but bugs. The Primary reason had to do with mostly multicore processors and the use of Physx's engine. Auto Assault folded do to lack of revenue generation that the publishers wished to see. This was mainly founded on large areas of the game being vacant. I know myself and others pushed for better Multicore support for both platforms, however, the devs felt that most PC owners use single-core procs and multicore is still years away.
I played Auto Assault until it's demise on Sat., midnight.

I started Beta Tabula Rosa in July 2007. It went live just this month. It too wasn't done. But could only be delayed for 2 more weeks as it already had a big delay of nearly 6 years. Several Engines were tried before, but lacked the visual detail the designers wanted. Two years ago the game was nearly ready for closed Beta one with the CoH engine, but cancelled as the AA engine was developed. It's not uncommon for authors to lease out engines. The Auto Assault was rich in detail, especially in the particle area. The engine was already signed up to be leased out for other NC developments. Tabula Rosa was to use the AA engine with its DirectX 9/hybrid DirectX 10 engine. But like Auto Assault, the game may see a demise. It has to do with the vast traffic of data between the Game servers and the client with the specific engine. It's a great engine for low numbers, but do to the vast detail, and tracking software for hardware support (anti-exploit from dual-core, quad cpus), etc.

Currently most live servers of TR have an average ping of +300 ms.
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